TIFF Review: 'My Internship in Canada'

My Internship in Canada (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre)
(Canada, 108 min.)
Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau
Starring: Patrick Huard, Suzanne Clément, Irdens Exantus, Clémence-Dufresne-Deslières
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (North American Premiere)
Photo: Ronald Plant / Les Films Seville

Philippe Falardeau goes to war in the incisively sharp comedy My Internship in Canada. The film, which stars suave Québécois everyman Patrick Huard (Starbuck, Mommy) as Steve Guibord, a hockey player turned MP, opens with a satirical disclaimer that it depicts true events that have not yet happened, and the droll warning shows how well this comedy has its finger on Canada’s cultural pulse. Stephen Harper has irreparably changed the face of Canada during his reign and Falardeau knows that the best course of action is to recognize our faults, laugh at them, and then collectively ask where to go from there. If the next step is war, Guibord brings the fuel like Canadian politicians take a pie to the face.

Guibord, an independent MP in the remote Quebec riding of Prescott-Makadewà-Rapides-aux Outardes (say that three times fast), becomes the swing vote in a poll to send Canada to war when a fellow MP of the reigning party can't cast a vote because she's in the hospital recovering from a botched boob job. Falardeau humorously plays Guibord's hockey smarts in a locker room powwow with the MP and his keen Haitian intern Sovereign (Irdens Exantus) as they check the players on the rink wipe board. The puck drops when Guibord's hockey catches up with him as press come sniffing after the story. Like hockey players, some politicians ramble nonsense in the locker room, and a few tips from wingman Sovereign foolheartedly inspire Guibord to call the opportunity a “window to democracy” and declare that he'll consult his entire constituency before voting. It's nice to see that democracy still lives in Canada, even if only in a fictional one.

My Internship in Canada follows the reliable formula that says comedy ensues as more characters enter the picture. With a vast constituency, Guibord faces a war of his own trying to navigate the townships and meet his constituents. Facing a roadblock from the Algonquins, a roadblock from the truckers to protest the roadblock, and another roadblock from miners who'd profit from a war, Guibord draws from contemporary Canadian episodes like the Idle No More movement as Guibord empathizes with his First Nations constituents.

Among the other fighting factions Guibord faces are the divisions in his own home. His wife, Suzanne (Suzanne Clément), encourages him to vote in favour of the war, while his daughter, Clémence-Dufresne-Deslières, refuses to be the girl who helped send her generation to the front line. The different attitudes are a microcosm of the larger national debate at which Guibord find himself at the centre. This is Canada, though, so hockey unites the trips as they put aside their differences to scream at the game on TV.

The film marks a return to Falardeau's provincial comedies like Congorama and It's Not Me, I Swear!, and while the jokes sometimes play broader, Internship puts the director in his element with regionally inflected satire that questions Quebec's something isolation. The film will inevitably play better with Canadian audiences than with international ones since the film features a smorgasbord of spot-on observations and nuances shaped from Canadian politics both past and present. Take Guibord’s quick retort of “Just watch me,” for example, as a nod to former PM Pierre Trudeau when it comes to finding a good maple-syrup-laced zinger to capture the absurd complacency of Canadian politics. Canada often struggles to produce sharp and funny comedies, especially those that have a distinct Canadian flavour, but My Internship in Canada is arguably the most politically charged satire to hit the mark in years. The film really has its finger on the pulse of the Canadian climate, and Falardeau’s funny and bold script riotously tackles the old Canada and new Canada.

Equally bold and sharp is the film's take on Canada's current leader and troublesome majority party. The film doesn't even need to explicitly name the Conservatives as the fascistic, war-seeking party in power, especially since it does so by implication by putting the Liberals as the Opposition. (Add an extra lol for a film that gives an NDP majority!) Particularly effective in sticking it to the Tories is the puffy faced Prime Minister who exploits Guibord's relationship with the Algonquins to bribe him to vote in his favour. This pasty politico is a dead ringer for Stephen Harper, especially with the droll performance by Paul Doucet that echoes Herr Harper's stiffness, lameness, pastiness, and snakiness. He's a fine foil among many in the zany cast of characters against whom Guibord battles.

The film finds an even better leader in Huard, who gives his funniest performance yet as Guibord. Huard isn’t afraid to play the fool as Guibord resembles a hockey-hosing everyman who puts his foot in his mouth more often than Canadians scarf down poutine. The actor brings a flawed humanity to Guibord that too few politicians are afraid to show and his relatable, likable everyman is a hero with a giant heart. Clément is strong, too, as Suzanne, who impassionedly takes an active role in Guibord’s county-wide campaign and rallies both the humour and the heft of the film.

Extanus a highlight of the ensemble and is lots of fun as Sovereign, under whose aid Guibord flourishes during the titular internship. The actor plays the Haitian sensation with a wide, infectious smile and desire to please, and he’s a likable outside who highlights the absurdity of the Canadian political circus. My Internship in Canada adds an amusing thread in which Sovereign explains the idiosyncrasies of Canadian politics to his village back home via Skype, and the thread carries the Falardeau stamp of Congorama and Monsieur Lazhar that plays with the fascination of encounters between the Québécois and the other.

Falardeau makes My Internship in Canada a sweet and funny caper as Guibord and Sovereign make the long trek to Ottawa in a farcical and very Canadian trek. An amusing score of kettledrums adds a lark of jungle rhythm to Guibord’s zany ride around the country—and provides a charming endnote to the film when the band takes the stage in Haiti. This laugh a minute farce is grand entertainment—and essential viewing before this October’s election.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

My Internship in Canada screens in Ottawa at The Mayfair beginning Nov. 6.

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